What I’m Listening To is a series where we talk to exciting artists, musicians, and community members and get a five-song slice of their current playlist.
“I am a happy husband, father, teacher, community organizer, artist, camper, hiker, runner, and soccer fan. I love what I do, where I get to do it, and who I get to do it with.”
One of Kyle Monhollen’s first memories is of sitting on the living room floor listening to his parents’ records through giant headphones. “My parents sang in the church choir, mom played piano at home and has a show tune lyric for every occasion. I was always encouraged to listen to what moved me and to share it. Music has been a consistent thread throughout my life, and I have always felt deeply connected to it,” says one of the co-founders of the Davis Live Music Collective, the Executive Director of the Davis Music Festival, graphic designer, art teacher, and this month’s WILT subject.
Besides being “tricked into” singing in his college choir, (which he calls “one of the more rewarding four-year experiences I’ve ever had”) and being in his junior high concert band, Monhollen was mostly a fan when it came to music. That is, until September of 2011 when his friend Kelly McCrory introduced him to his neighbor David Horning. Horning was putting on “great house concerts at the time–things that should have been in proper venues.”
Monhollen showed up to a show with a bag of ice and stayed to help clean up afterward. Horning, McCrory, and Monhollen got to talking about “all these really cool little things happening in town in people’s backyards, and we wondered if there was a way to grow it.” They emailed and met, brainstorming until they landed on the idea of a membership format and the Davis Live Music Collective was born. They invited a dozen or so friends and local live music supporters to participate, kicking in some cash for guaranteed tickets. They put on their first show on February 21st, 2012. “The goal was to host a great live show and at least break even financially. We exceeded both goals and decided to keep going. We have since grown to more than thirty members, and look forward to finding new ways to build community around great live music.”
When curating shows Monhollen says they try to live up to their motto: Bringing the Best Live Music to Davis, CA.”We look for touring professionals who are also interesting performers who we feel will both connect to an audience and maybe get them to stretch a little.” Collective members are guaranteed four events annually, including Davis Music Fest so beyond the Fest, they look for “three great events our audiences can remember as the best show they saw all year. Curating involves an interesting calculus of artist availability, appropriate venue, budget, the style of the other shows we’ve already done, and–most importantly–passion from someone in the collective willing to run the show.” The shows come together in a relatively short period of time, compared to, say, the annual Davis Music Fest, and rely on a much smaller pool of people usually, Monhollen says, “just a couple folks from the board, to handle everything from contracts to clean up. When you’re doing this on your free time you have to really believe in the music and the event in order to do it right. Fortunately, that kind of passion tends to spread and get more people involved, even if it just means getting people through the doors, and helps make each event amazing.”
Around the time the Davis Live Music Collective was coming together, Danny Tomasello put on the first Davis Music Festival. At that single day, single venue show in 2011, Monhollen was only an attendee. He later met Tomasello at the end of that year as a board member of the Davis School Arts Foundation when the Fest founder donated the proceeds of that show to the Foundation, a practice they continue today. “I had been talking to a couple of other people about what would become the Davis Live Music Collective, and the two ideas–DMF and DLMC–started lining up. I started helping with the Fest in 2012, providing graphics and learning how things work, then took on a few more responsibilities each year.” In 2017, he became the Executive Director.
Today, Monhollen describes Fest as a “SXSW style multi-genre multi-venue concert/event.” It takes place in Downtown Davis and has grown to span “three days, eight venues, and 40+ artists plus a terrific roster of returning sponsors from the community.” He calls being the Executive Director “a ton of fun!” Though he admits it’s “a lot of work.” He credits the growing number of people involved in the Fest as what makes it possible–and fun. “For the first few years, DMF was really run by four people, with Danny pulling the heaviest load than a lot of others pitching in bits and pieces here and there, mostly right before or during the event. Now we have a dozen people working year round, including a standing executive board that meets monthly and a group of regular organizers who keep things moving. Which is not to say we’re now some super organized corporate thing–we still meet around someone’s kitchen table over pizza and beer–but it is great to have more voices and hands involved.”
What draws Monhollen to do so much volunteer work organizing live music events? “I have always loved live music, and have as much fun throwing a party as going to one. Bringing people together around a shared, unique experience in art, especially in the context of the collective which involves so many wonderful people I have gotten to know, truly fills my heart.”
And if that’s enough, he also teaches middle school art, runs his own graphic design company 2407graphics, and has a family. Like many of our overachieving WILT subjects, he has a set priority list and a serious creative drive. “I am wired to be pretty productive up until about midnight, which helps. My family and teaching are my top priorities, then DLMC/DMF planning. 2407graphics lets me connect images to ideas and the community, both through my own creative work and the logos and banners I still get see around. Isn’t there some saying about how when you love what you do it doesn’t feel like work? That’s true for me most days.”
So what is Kyle Monhollen listening to? “I live on a pretty steady diet of whatever we’re calling Americana right now, but love a good song and rousing bit of art wherever it might be. Ultimately, the stuff that sticks with me over time, short or long, is what lets me connect to a memory or a feeling I need right then. Sometimes it’s nostalgia, sometimes it’s hope, sometimes it’s emotional release, sometimes it’s just dissolving into the moment.”
Jordan Smart-‘Heart of it All’-“I’ve seen Jordan and got to know him a little over the last few years, and he is a genuine talent. His lyrics and delivery are straight from the heart, his tunes are timely and timeless. This gentle little song about coming home to the ones you love puts a smile on my face every time. Teaching middle school, the volume level of my work day tends to feel, let’s say, excessive. It’s nice to unwind with something quiet.”
The Mother Hips-‘White Falcon Fuzz’-“This one is totally situational. They were not on my radar twenty years ago, probably because I didn’t go to college on the West Coast, but I stumbled onto seeing them play live this year for the first time. And a second, then two more times for good measure to round out the year. They pull together a lot of what I like about straight forward rock’n’roll, good songwriting, and that elusive golden California sound. Their new album Chorus is solid but this is the one that’s been in my head and headphones since September.”
Avril Lavigne-‘Sk8er Boi’-“As a parent of two teenagers, a lot of what I hear on repeat is not something I choose. Somehow my kids came across this one, or maybe I played it for them very much on purpose as a welcome break from the hours of Billie Eilish in which they have been bathing. We’ll never know. I do know that they love it in both an earnest ‘quick, memorize all the words and shout along as loud as you can all day’ way and a ‘hee hee, look at me being all retro’ kind of way. It is a perfect Riot Grrrl-lite pop earworm for the 13-16-year-old set, and I love that they love it.”
Run the Jewels-‘Blockbuster Night Pt. 1’-“Even the nice guys need to throw up a middle finger once in a while. This is my go-to track for blowing off steam over all the terrible stuff that feels outside of my control, so basically politics. The lyrics are raw, and the beats are big and indulgent; like watching a choreographed movie fight in slo-mo so you can savor every crushing blow the bad guy has to take.”
Langhorne Slim & the Law-‘The Way We Move’-“This rootsy rock/soul rave-up has me shouting along after the first chorus every time. I love how inclusive the ‘we’ in the title feels when repeated in unison. It’s infectious and fun but not completely frivolous. This line stands out for me: ‘…all my friends got crooked tales; That’s the way I like it; That’s the company I keep.’ We’ve all got twists and turns in our lives, whether it seems that way from the outside or not, and we’re all trying to move through things our own way. For me, this song embraces that idea and turns it into a celebration.”
The Davis Music Live Music Collective is working on two events in March and April, but Monhollen needs to “dot some i’s and cross some t’s before I announce anything here–stay tuned!” However the ninth annual Davis Music Festival will be happening on June 21-23, 2019, and tickets are on sale now at http://davismusicfest.com.